Aspects of Nature
short fiction by Rhoda Rabinowitz Green

Print: 978-1-77133-281-1
ePub: 978-1-77133-282-8
PDF: 978-1-77133-284-2

160 Pages
May 25, 2016
New Fiction All Titles Short Fiction


Aspects of Nature short fiction by Rhoda Rabinowitz Green

Like the many surfaces of a gemstone, the varied aspects of human experience link the short stories in this collection, titled Aspects of Nature. Themes of finding one’s identity; conflicts of family, career and romance; loneliness, death, loss, and feelings of displacement; youth and aging; courage and fear; human frailty; spirituality; compassion and manifestations of evil, all are at the heart of this collection. Of the eleven stories, the one bearing the collection’s name presents a satirical microcosm of our fragmented contemporary society, a candle-lit dinner party of six disparate guests at a Canadian cottage on an isolated island in the middle of a lake at the height of a Gothic storm. The remaining stories show aspects of nature in their diverse guises: a brilliant concert pianist courageously asserts life over evil; in a satirical affirmation of self, a middle-aged woman confronts a plastic surgeon urging a face lift; an elderly woman, trapped in her role as a mother and grandmother, offers an amusing, account of her inability to assert to her family what it is she desires; a seventy-year-old woman on her death bed makes plans for her next dinner party; a Holocaust survivor fashions random natural objects into sculptures, determined to impose order out of chaos; a forty-something woman finally confronts her doctor and, by extension, the male medical profession; an aging woman laments her loss of memory, her home, independence, youth, beauty; another, faces societal changes she no longer understands; a young pianist is conflicted by love for her master teacher; a young mother, forever explaining her husband and sons each to the other, seeks to fathom where her own self has disappeared.

“These stories show a rare and sympathetic nature at work. Each carves its own world in language, the mordant humour omnipresent but never intrusive, the dialogue at times pitch perfect (a rare gift). The stories are memorable for the insights, images, beauty that they capture and convey in words. These are infinitely human stories (death is never very far from any of the character’s thoughts) with perhaps memory, mutability, mortality, the most central of their concerns. With the publication of this book, Canadian literature gains a fresh, new voice, a voice to be listened to and praised. Bravo, as they say in that art of all arts.”

—Matthew Corrigan, Senior Scholar, Professor Emeritus, Humanities and Creative Writing, York University

“These stories are a treat: by turns tart and sweet, they investigate with a trenchant eye the landscapes of memory and of loss and the eternal quest for identity.”

—Rick Archbold, writer

“I have been immensely impressed with the intelligence and subtlety of Rhoda’s work. I do urge that it be given a serious reading. I can guarantee it will be worth your while.”

—Janette Turner Hospital

Aspects of Nature

Rhoda Rabinowitz Green is the author of two novels, Slowly I Turn and Moon Over Mandalay. Her short fiction has been published in magazines and journals across North America, including The Fiddlehead, The Louisville Review, Dandelion, Fireweed, Parchment, Sistersong, and Jewish Currents. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart prize and was a finalist in the Canadian Writers Union Short Prose Competition. She lives in Toronto.

Aspects of Nature by Rhoda Rabinowitz Green
reviewed by The Miramichi Reader - August 29, 2016

Short story collections are always a delight for me to read. I say that because you never know what you might get: will all the stories be good ones? Will there be some stinkers in the mix? Or are these just a collection thrown together by the publisher? With Aspects of Nature (2016, Inanna Publications) you'll get eleven well-written stories. However, I especially enjoyed the several ones relating to the issues of growing older and the challenges of the elderly.

The first three stories are set against the background of the author's training as a classical pianist. In the end note of "The Wind at Her Back" the author tells us that the fictionalized character of Ari, pianist and master teacher, is a composite of two influential professors of piano, one of which is the subject of the second story, "Finding Maryan" which, in my opinion, is one of the best stories in this collection. It is a brief (only 34 pages) biographical sketch of pianist and holocaust survivor Maryan Filar but is the most fascinating, (since the author knew the man) serious and deeply moving story to be found in Aspects of Nature. Really, the subject is worthy of a full biography and Ms. Rabinowitz Green should be the one to write it. The story certainly left me wanting to know more about the man.

As I mentioned earlier, the stories about aging and the challenges of growing old, facing death, are where Ms. Rabinowitz Green's writing strengths lie. In "What's Going on Here, Anyway?" Leon sits on a death watch at his wife's bedside:

"Everything about his wife's surroundings belied the horror of her state: crisp ironed sheets, lacy pillow-slips, eyelet duvet, the honeyed fruitwood four-poster in which she rested; on the dresser, Venetian-crystal miniature perfume bottles, wine and raspberry, dusty rose and trillium blue; chintz flower-printed chair in which Leon sat watching Shirley. She lay propped against pillows, looking straight ahead, neither to one side or the other, her eyes uncannily deep and dark and brooding, vacuous, except for rare moments when she laughed at something funny."

What is fascinating bout this six page story is the way the author makes you feel the claustrophobia of the bedroom, the stilted, repetitive conversations and the gloomy, unchanging environment with little in the way of  distraction for those keeping the deathwatch.

Two other stories, "Shayndeleh" and "Shayndeleh's Real Estate" are centred on Jeanne (whose nickname is Shayndeleh, meaning the "pretty one") an inhabitant of a senior's home who  likes to watch Queenie, the beautiful goldfish swimming around the castle in the fish tank. Jeanne's situation is captured beautifully by the author, recalling a life full of love, friends, family, houses and neighbours, and now reduced to one room (shared, at that); her personal possessions carried in a plastic toiletry purse on her lap which she regularly inventories.

"There's only the distant past, no now now. Only a field of greyheads- that's what she calls them - women mostly, asleep in wheelchairs, their chins dropped to their chests, their shoulders sagging, listless.

It is sad, but a reminder of our own lives, the brevity of which will soon find us older, senior citizens dependent on younger relatives, and in failing health which ultimately relegates us to live within a system with other comparable cases, reduced to a room with little more than a bed, chair and table.

While the tenor of Aspects of Nature is one of gravity and solemnity, there are lighter moments to be found, such as in her letters to her doctor: "Dear Doctor" and "Age Appropriate".

I truly enjoyed Aspects of Nature, and I would definitely be interested in reading more of Ms. Rabinowitz Green's writings.

Rhoda Rabinowitz Green is the author of two novels, Slowly I Turn and Moon Over Mandalay. Her short fiction has been published in magazines and journals across North America, including The Fiddlehead, The Louisville Review, Dandelion, Fireweed, Parchment, Sistersong, and Jewish Currents. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart prize and was a finalist in the Canadian Writers Union Short Prose Competition. She lives in Toronto.


Rhoda Rabinowitz Green’s Aspects of Nature (2016)
reviewed by Buried in Print - July 15, 2016

This debut collection is filled with sensory detail. From brisket and chicken soup to gefilte fish and borscht.

From paint-by-number clowns to lacy pillow-slips. From red-striped deck chairs to weathered shutters.

Whether it’s Debussy or lyrics from “Oklahoma”, the details matter. But Aspects of Nature is actually preoccupied with broad and expansive themes.

More than one of stories, however, indeed one of the cornerstone tales (“Finding Maryan”), does have music at its core, however.

“Finding Maryan” is based on her experience studying with musician Maryan Filar, in Philadelphia in the 1950s, when he had newly arrived in the Philadephia.

The story requires that she flesh out her understanding of him a great deal, building upon the scant facts known about his life.

“Well, it isn’t enough, is it, to march chronologically through a story, beginning to end? Every writer knows that; every reader feels that. An epiphany, a point toward which the narrative drives, a climax of a sort, is required: What happens on a “Thursday” afternoon at four p.m.? What Thursday afternoon would you like? The day the SS wrench Maryan Filar’s father, Adam, from Warsaw ghetto streets, never to be heard from again? Or the day his mother and sister vanish?”

Perhaps it is how a writer defines an epiphany which has the potential to nurture alliances with readers.

Much the same way that Bonnie Burnard spoke of wanting to tell, in her novel A Good House, the story of a family that mostly functioned. Even though the literary climate was weighing heavily on the side of dysfunction, and the tension and drama associated with fractured and flailing familial relationships.

Many readers loved A Good House and it also won that year’s Giller Prize. But some readers expressed deep disappointment that nothing happens in that novel.

Rhoda Rabinowitz Green’s stories are quiet and filled with ordinary and everyday occurrences in some respects as well, but often there is darkness at their edges (even, sometimes, their cores).

Sometimes this results in an over-earnest tone, as sweeping observations are made, but this is not uncommon in debut collections. Consider:  “Only music kept him from becoming slave to the devil of bitterness, hate, and despair.” An attentive and experienced reader senses this is true, does not require the elucidation.

These periodic pronouncements are not as immediatley apparent when presented in plainer language. Consider: “Pretending there was something going on here that was worth a life, worth talking about.”

And when offered as casual asides, or displayed through elements of a scene rather than directly, they add flavour and spirit to the collection. In “Dear Doctor”, for instance: “‘Doctor will have to speak to you,’ she crisps (They all say Doctor, generic noun, like Father as in Holy).”

The darkness does weigh down the reader at times (readers should have opted for a bright and sunny daytime scene on the cover if they hoped otherwise). “Seconds of silence go by like minutes, weighted with a lifetime of pleasures made bittersweet with present sorrows.”

But a spirit of resilience is also present. “That confident assertive woman I always knew was there, latently potentially powerful like the genie in the bottle.”

Settings are as varied as Florida and California, Toronto and Philadelphia. But much of the drama is interior, the setting merely a detail (sometimes even unnamed).

The language is mostly straightforward, with the occasional lofty image (like seaweed snaking in strands, Medusa’s tresses). Sometimes metaphors and descriptions are predictable (slashing rain, whooshing wind, hair colour of chestnuts, or crashing ocean breakers) but sometimes powerful (splinters of time, or a rumour spreading like a contagion of lice).

Aspects of Nature is a solid debut collection, preoccupied with “rewinding the possibilities” and decisions about where and how to live, and whether and what to sacrifice. Sometimes it’s simply about a Thursday afternoon, other times someone vanishes.

     Carrie dips the ladle, her arm trembles, moves toward Elana’s shoulder,
balancing. We all watch. The room shines like sunrise — crystal, candles,
nubbly silverware, fire; outside, lightning — the ladle nears the plate and
suddenly Elana’s white chiffon has great orange flowers decorating its front.
No sound comes from her, she only stares straight ahead, her eyes very wide.
Drumroll of thunder. Serving wine, Roger’s arm freezes mid-air, Carrie’s little
mouse-face twitches and a weak squeal escapes. We all stare at the orange blobs.
Very slowly Elana turns to Carrie.
     “You always disliked me,” Elana whispers.
     “Roger, get Elana a towel, don’t just sit there,” Carrie, sharply to her
husband. “Do something, move your beard ... body!” correcting herself.
     “You were jealous,” Elana says matter-of-factly. “Jealous of me and Sam.”
     “Elana you’re crazy,” Carrie says.
     “Of what we had,” Elana persists.
     “You must get those roots touched,” aubergine-haired Janet puts in.
     “Try a different colour,” Pete mumbles, he’s glazed now, “What ya got
doesn’t go with orange.”
     Roger’s returned and toweling Elana’s front.
     “Oh stop, Roger!” she shouts, getting up, and reaching back, yanks down
her zipper, gives a little shake, a wiggle, and the dress slips to her ankles.
     Elana stands regally before us in oyster satin panties and bustier, garters
holding up shimmery stockings. The aslant Peretti dangles from its white
velvet band, teases.
     Ever the polite Trinidadian, David without a word helps Elana step over
the dress and picks it up off the floor. He offers Elana his arm to leave the
room, but turning from him, she plunks back down in her chair.
     “Wine?” Roger asks.
     “I’ll take my soup in a plate, please,” Elana counters, ice.
Wind rattles the panes and whistles down the chimney, lightning forks, rends
the sky, pulses one two, a strobe; cymbals clash, drums rumble, candle-glow
quivers in a flame-dance. Except for Elana, we shudder and look out at the
rain still thrumming against the windows. It fills the silence.
     Elana wears a size 38D.

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